The Advocate

The Advocate

4.6 25
by Randy Singer

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2015 Christy Award finalist!
2015 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner!
At the trial of Christ, Theophilus, brilliant young assessore raised in the Roman aristocracy, stands behind Pontius Pilate and whispers, “Offer to release Barabbas.” The strategy backfires, and Theophilus never forgets the sight of an innocent man unjustly

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2015 Christy Award finalist!
2015 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner!
At the trial of Christ, Theophilus, brilliant young assessore raised in the Roman aristocracy, stands behind Pontius Pilate and whispers, “Offer to release Barabbas.” The strategy backfires, and Theophilus never forgets the sight of an innocent man unjustly suffering the worst of all possible deaths—Roman crucifixion.

Three decades later, Theophilus has proven himself in the legal ranks of the Roman Empire. He has survived the insane rule of Caligula and has weathered the cruel tyrant’s quest to control the woman he loves. He has endured the mindless violence of the gladiator games and the backstabbing intrigue of the treason trials.

Now he must face another evil Caesar, defending the man Paul in Nero’s deranged court. Can Theophilus mount a defense that will keep another innocent man from execution?

The advocate’s first trial altered the course of history. His last will change the fate of an empire. Tyndale House Publishers

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 04/28/2014
Veteran lawyer-author Singer (The Last Plea Bargain) uses the idea advanced elsewhere that the Bible books Luke and Acts were written as legal briefs to defend the Apostle Paul against the Roman emperor Nero. The two biblical books are addressed to an enigmatic Theophilus, (a name meaning "lover of God,") and Singer develops a fictional Theophilus, a lawyer who stood behind Pilate to advise him to offer up Jesus Christ to be crucified. Theophilus witnesses the lives of Jesus and Paul unfold, and has to decide based on the evidence whether to join the early movement of Jesus followers and become a victim of the great persecution of Nero. Some of the dialog comes directly from Scripture; other speeches are faithful to biblical characters such as Paul: "The most important thing is not that the letter proclaims my innocence but that it proclaims the good news about the Messiah." Cross James Michener's great historical fiction with a John Grisham legal thriller, and you've got this epic classic by Singer. (May)
RT Book Reviews
Singer is a well-established legal thriller author, but The Advocate takes a huge swing away from this genre into historical fiction as readers follow Theophilus, a real person from the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, on a fictional journey. In doing so, Singer presents a compelling tale based on two real trials: that of Jesus and that of Paul in Nero’s court. This book is a riveting look into ancient Rome and offers parallels to our current political climate.

Since Theophilus’ early days when his prompt “offer to release Barabbas” backfired, he has been haunted by the death of Jesus, an innocent man. Theophilus rises quickly as a defender of the common people oppressed by Roman political powers. He falls in love and has a son who he will do anything to defend. His journey takes him through treason trials, gladiator fights and finally to his greatest trial: against Nero and defending Paul, a Christ follower.

RT Book Reviews Tyndale House Publishers
Singer is a well-established legal thriller author, but The Advocate takes a huge swing away from this genre into historical fiction as readers follow Theophilus, a real person from the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, on a fictional journey. In doing so, Singer presents a compelling tale based on two real trials: that of Jesus and that of Paul in Nero’s court. This book is a riveting look into ancient Rome and offers parallels to our current political climate.

Since Theophilus’ early days when his prompt “offer to release Barabbas” backfired, he has been haunted by the death of Jesus, an innocent man. Theophilus rises quickly as a defender of the common people oppressed by Roman political powers. He falls in love and has a son who he will do anything to defend. His journey takes him through treason trials, gladiator fights and finally to his greatest trial: against Nero and defending Paul, a Christ follower.

Randy Singer has been long known for his pulse-pounding legal thrillers that keep you turning pages late into the night. He manages to balance complex plots with deep and relevant themes, wrapping them around a storyline that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. In fact, you could say that Singer writes like his main characters practice law: with razor-sharp suspense, a dash of danger, and no fear of tackling difficult cases. His newest thriller, The Advocate, is no exception.

The Advocate is unlike anything Singer has ever written, taking readers back two thousand years to the Roman Empire and its famed legal system. It’s here that he introduces us to Rome’s most infamous lawyer—or advocate—a man named Theophilus. The book is really the story of Theophilus’s life and how influenced he was by Jesus of Nazareth. Make no mistake: this may be historical fiction, but it’s still Singer’s unique brand of legal thriller. Only instead of shootouts and corrupt lawyers, you get gladiatorial games and an insane emperor.

Theophilus was the perfect biblical figure for Singer to morph into his titular advocate. We literally know nothing for certain of the person to whom Luke/Acts was written, but many have speculated, based on the way he is addressed, that he was a high-ranking Roman official. Singer, with some actual factual precedent, presents Theophilus as Paul’s advocate before Nero, making Luke/Acts serve as legal evidence in the case. Along the way, we meet characters such as Pontius Pilate, to whom Theophilus serves as an assistant or asessore, the emperors Caligula and Nero, and Jesus himself.

Singer, as a lawyer/pastor/storyteller, has created a story that perfectly honors all three professions. While the story is, obviously, fictional, Singer weaves the story so well that I’m convinced it could all actually have been fact. He is very careful to get his biblical and historical details correct. In fact, what I really want is an annotated version to tell me what we know for sure biblically, what’s accurate historically, and where Singer takes artistic liberty.

Actually, what I really want to do is give this book to every Christian ever because through it, they’ll not only be entertained, they’ll finish it knowing so much more about how their faith interacts with history. Most Christians have this idea of “secular” history (what they get taught in schools) and “Christian” history (what they read in Scripture and are taught in church) and rarely do the twain ever meet. Singer, through the method of fictional story, is able to factually place the early church in context of history better than most history books.

The Advocate is just simply incredible. You may think you know the story, especially since it’s based on history, but Singer still pulls a few surprises. Rarely do I ever say that a book left me awestruck, but I’ll say it for this one. All of Singer’s books have been great, but this one…this one’s special.

The Christian Manifesto
As a young man, Theophilus had lofty dreams of becoming one of Rome’s elite advocates. After a childhood of privilege and rigorous training he was equipped with the skills needed to seek truth, sway Roman politics, and change the world. At age twenty, Theophilus was appointed as chief legal advisor to Pontius Pilate. It was during this time that Theophilus encountered Jesus and faced his first true test—one in which he failed miserably. When his service to Pilate ended, Theophilus returned to his beloved Rome to find mayhem in the senate and a lethally paranoid emperor. In the midst of this environment, Theophilus begins his career as an advocate—attempting to navigate the treacherous political waters of a failed republic and an insane emperor. With excellent historical details and strong spiritual components, The Advocate brings to life the story of Theophilus.

I first heard about The Advocate last year in an interview with Randy Singer. At the time it sounded fantastically intriguing with an epic scope and unique speculative angle. I couldn’t wait for the chance to read it. Finally, after a year of waiting I had the opportunity to dive in this book and was quite impressed by the imagination and originality of this story.

About eighty percent of The Advocate is told from Theophilus’ first-person perspective and works exceptionally well. I wasn’t anticipating this approach to the story, but it has the intended effect of bringing readers deep into Theophilus’ mind and helping them better understand the various situations he must work through. However, as the book switches from first-person to third-person the voice doesn’t change. As a result, the portions written from the third-person point of view feel disconnected and lack the same intensity other parts of this book are able to achieve.

Aside from this issue, there is really little else to criticize. This is an exceptionally well-written book. The details are amazing and the fictional story of Theophilus feels like a historical event. Additionally, Singer creates an intense and immersive environment where the reader can truly appreciate the intricacies the Roman political scene as well as the uncertainties facing Roman citizens of all classes. The progressive decline of the Roman Empire and its rulers is presented with detail, but streamlined so that the story flows smoothly and does not become cumbersome to read.

In addition to creating a vibrant historical and political setting, Singer expertly portrays the various spiritual ideas of the time. While it’s easy to shake our heads at these ancient beliefs, in The Advocate, the reader gets a real sense of the history and reasons behind why the Romans worshiped as they did. As someone who likes to better understand why people believe what they do, I found these portions of the book absolutely fascinating.

Given the time period in which this book is set, there are some very gritty and difficult scenes. Most readers are familiar with the brutality of the Roman justice system and the senseless death of thousands. But Singer tactfully brings these emotionally charged historical facts into his book. Not surprising, some of these scenes are difficult to read. For the squeamish—reader beware.

I cannot imagine the number of hours Singer spent researching and writing this story. It is one of his finest works and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to read it. I waited a year to read The Advocate and I was not disappointed.

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Product Details

Tyndale House Publishers
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5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.40(d)

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Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Randy Singer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4143-9130-4



I was fourteen years old when I learned what it meant to be crucified.

We hauled our own crossbeams, the twelve of us, students of Seneca the Younger, dragging them at least five miles down the cobble stones of the Appian Way. The day was hot and dry. Dust settled in our mouths and noses. I ground my teeth and felt the fine particles of dirt. I licked my dry lips, trying to moisten the thick white spit at the edge of my mouth. Sweat trickled down my face. Seneca marched ahead of us, carrying nothing but his waterskin, his sweat-soaked tunic sticking to his thick back. My own tunic was wet and grimy. My sandals squished with every step.

I had started out carrying my crossbeam, hoisting it across my thin shoulders, but I soon gave up and dragged it like most of the other students. It weighed nearly as much as me. The rough wood chafed my back, so I switched it from one shoulder to the other as I pulled it along. The only one who wasn't dragging his beam was Lucian, two years older than the rest of us and built like a gladiator. He balanced his beam on his shoulders, yet even Lucian was starting to stoop from the load.

To make it seem real, Seneca had arranged for a Roman legionnaire to bring up the rear. He was a humorless man, stocky and unshaven with nasty breath and a spiteful attitude. This was his chance to bark orders at the sons of aristocrats as if we were common slaves. If we stopped, he gave us a hard shove and cursed us. He took big gulps of water, taunting us with how refreshing it was, then spit much of it on the ground.

"When my parents learn of this, they'll have Seneca's head," Lucian said under his breath.

I was sure Seneca wasn't worried. His job was to mold us into young men fit to be Roman senators or commanders or magistrates. This was nothing compared to the military training that many of my contemporaries would be facing in a few years. Still, we were the sons of senators and equestrians, so we cast annoyed glances at each other. Who does this man think he is, humiliating us this way?

Caligula had the lightest beam to carry. Naturally. He was my age but a few inches taller, with spindly legs and a long, thin neck. His head, topped off with curly red hair, seemed oversized for his body. Caligula had a mean streak, so I generally kept my distance. There was an unwritten rule that he was never to be crossed—not because we feared the spoiled young man himself, but because we feared his family.

His full name was Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus. He had been born on the battlefield in Gaul, the son of the great general Germanicus and his wife, Agrippina. It was the soldiers who had dubbed him Caligula, which meant "little sandals." He became a good luck charm of sorts for Germanicus's troops, and they would let him march into battle with them, staying near the rear of the lines. He was the great-nephew of the emperor and might one day be emperor himself if his mother managed to poison all the right relatives.

He was also a bully.

He had been taunting my friend Marcus earlier in the walk, taking his frustrations out on the smallest among us. Now he was just plain tired.

"This is outrageous," Caligula said more than once. Unlike Lucian, he said it loud enough for Seneca to hear. Yet our teacher ignored him and kept on walking. A few times Caligula stopped, and the legionnaire pushed him, though not as hard as he shoved the rest of us.

I kept my head down and focused on each step, counting to one hundred and then starting over again. I was in my usual spot at the front of the class, not far behind Seneca.

It was nearly noon when Seneca finally stopped by an open pasture on the side of the road near a small, cool stream. I dropped my beam on the ground and bent over, hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath.

Seneca allowed us to get a drink and told us to sit on our crossbeams. He stood in the middle of our little band. The sun nearly blinded me as I looked up at him.

Seneca wiped the sweat from his eyes and began the day's lesson. The legionnaire stood next to him, arms folded across his chest, scowling.

"You have all heard of the Third Servile War," Seneca said, "when Spartacus led a two-year slave rebellion against Rome. The Senate didn't take the slave rebellion seriously until it became clear that Rome itself was under threat."

Some of my friends fidgeted on their beams, trying to get comfortable after the long walk. Not me. I could listen to Seneca all day. His curly hair, round baby face, and small blue eyes made him seem as harmless as a child. But he had a commanding voice, and I loved his wit and cynicism in the same way that I imagined Cicero's students had once loved him. Armies destroyed people, and gladiators entertained them, but orators like Cicero and Seneca inspired them. One day I would do the same.

"Marcus Licinius Crassus was the richest man in the Senate, perhaps the richest man in Roman history," Seneca continued. "He had more than five hundred slaves and was an expert in architecture. He knew how to control fires by destroying the burning buildings and curtailing the spread of flames to nearby homes. When fire struck Rome, Crassus and his men ran to the flames and offered an option to the surrounding property owners. They could sell to young Crassus on the spot at a discounted rate, or they could watch their houses go up in flames. As soon as they shook hands on the deal, Crassus's slaves would extinguish the fire, and Crassus would reap his rewards."

"Brilliant," Caligula said.

Seneca shot him a look, but I knew Caligula didn't care.

"At the height of his wealth, Crassus was worth more than 200 million sestertii. And because he had built his fortune on the backs of slaves, he had a great incentive to quash Spartacus's rebellion. Since Rome's best generals were fighting in foreign lands, Crassus raised his own army to march against Spartacus and the rebel slaves. The first several battles did not go well for Crassus. At the first sign of trouble, his men abandoned their weapons and fled. To improve morale, Crassus revived the ancient practice of decimation. Lucian, what does that mean?"

"I am sorry, Master Seneca. What does what mean?"

Seneca let a few beats of silence show his displeasure. "Decimation. What is the origin of that word?"

Lucian frowned. "I do not know."

"Anyone?" Seneca asked.

I knew the answer, but I had learned long ago that it was sometimes better to hold my tongue. I kept my eyes down while Seneca surveyed the group.

"Decimate comes from the root word decimare, which means to take or destroy one-tenth," Seneca explained. He moved closer to us, and the sun behind him seemed to make him glow. "So Crassus divided his Roman legions into groups of ten and had them draw lots. The one to whom the lot fell would be stripped of his armor and beaten to death by the other nine. The fighting spirit of his troops increased dramatically. Crassus had demonstrated that he was more dangerous to them than their enemies."

Seneca now had everyone's attention. In my mind, I imagined the twelve of us drawing lots and the loser being beaten to death by the others. I didn't think I could bring myself to do it.

"Eventually, Crassus's men cornered Spartacus and his army. Spartacus wanted to engage Crassus in battle, slaughtering his way toward the general's position. But the overwhelming numbers were too much for the slaves. Spartacus died in battle before he reached Crassus. Six thousand slaves were captured."

I had been taught for as long as I could remember to despise Spartacus and the bloody revolt he had started. The uprising was an affront to every Roman citizen. But there was always a part of me that cheered for the slaves—my natural desire to root for the disadvantaged. I secretly wished that Spartacus had been able to run the gauntlet and engage Crassus one-on-one, the way real men fight.

"Crassus wanted to make sure no slave in the empire would ever revolt again," Seneca said. "And so he perfected the art of crucifixion."

He paused for effect, and we all knew something unusual was coming. It was why our parents paid handsomely for us to attend this school. Seneca was famous for his memorable stunts.

"Even though you're not old enough to attend the games and see the live executions there, I'm sure many of you have seen criminals hanging on crosses outside the walls of the city. Still, I thought it might be interesting for Gallus to tell you how it's done."

The legionnaire named Gallus stepped forward, directly in front of where I was sitting. Why is it always me? I stared at the black hair on his legs, the worn sandals, the calloused feet.

"Stand up!" he said gruffly.

I stood, looking him squarely in the eye.

He picked up my crossbeam and placed it in the middle of the group. He pulled a hammer from his belt and a long, sharp spike from his sack.

"Lie down on the beam," he said. "Arms stretched out on the wood."

I looked at Seneca, who nodded slightly.

"Need any help?" Caligula asked the legionnaire.

"You want to take his place?" Gallus shot back.

"Not really."

"Then shut up."

I lay down on the beam, arms stretched wide, keeping an eye on Gallus. The legionnaire knelt beside me, hammer in one hand, spike in the other. "We use six-inch spikes," he said, pressing the point against my left wrist.

"Come here and hold this," he said to another student. It was Marcus, my skinny friend. Because he had struggled carrying his beam, he had been berated by Gallus most of the morning.

Marcus got up and held the spike over my wrist, his hand trembling.

"Nervous?" Gallus asked him.

"Yes, sir."

"You've got nothing to worry about. It's your friend here who should be worried."

Gallus snorted a laugh, but I wasn't concerned. I knew Seneca would only let this go so far. Maybe the soldier would draw a little blood, but Seneca would never let him drive a spike through my wrist.

"We've found," Gallus said, eyeing the other boys, "that when we sever the nerve that runs up your wrist, it causes unbearable pain. Plus, when we put the spike here, it's lodged between two bones, so it won't just rip out of the arm."

"The pain is so severe," Seneca said helpfully, "that a new word was invented to describe it. Our word excruciatus literally means 'out of the cross.'"

Gallus went on to explain the details of the process. How the feet would be impaled. How the prisoner would literally suffocate, his body sagging under its own weight as he lost the strength to push up against the nails in order to draw breath. "We usually let 'em hang for about three days. They typically die on the second day, and then the birds have a snack on day three. Any questions?"

There were none.

Gallus swung his hammer. I closed my eyes and cringed. He stopped it a few inches from the spike and laughed. He allowed me to get up and return on wobbly knees to my original spot as he described all the configurations he and his fellow soldiers had used to crucify prisoners.

"Okay," Seneca finally said, "I think they've got the picture."

Gallus stepped back, and Seneca continued the lesson. "Crassus still holds the record," Seneca said. "He put six thousand men on crosses, every one of the slaves he had captured, and lined the Appian Way with them—from here all the way back to Rome."

The teacher paused and let the enormity of that sink in. We had been walking for miles. At one time this entire distance had been lined with dying men.

"Crassus and his men rode through the gauntlet of the crucified, while the slaves cried out for mercy, begging to be thrust through with a spear. Cheering crowds greeted Crassus in Rome, where he was crowned with a laurel wreath and hailed as a triumphator. He sacrificed a white bull at the temple of Jupiter, and the entire city celebrated for days. It was said that three days after the slaves' bodies were discarded, you could still smell the stench."

Seneca looked over our heads, down the Appian Way, as if he could imagine the scene. "And so I have a question for you," he said, his voice lower. "Should Romans crucify people? Is this the type of conduct befitting the most advanced civilization the world has ever known?"

I was looking at Seneca, but I noticed Gallus out of the corner of my eye. He seemed to stiffen at the very suggestion that his cherished method of execution might be open to question.

I hoped Seneca wouldn't call on me. Everything inside me said that crucifixion was not worthy of the glory of Rome. How could we inflict such torture on our enemies? What separated us from the barbarians when we committed such acts? And what about the innocent men condemned to die for something they didn't do? Our system of justice wasn't perfect.

But I didn't want to seem weak in front of my classmates. Seneca's little display, complete with Gallus as a prop, was designed to show us how horrible it was to die this way. Yet we were Romans. We weren't supposed to flinch in the face of death, no matter how horrible. One sign of manhood was being able to stomach this kind of gore, even relish it.

"I'll answer that," Caligula said, standing.

"Very well, Gaius," Seneca replied. He never used his pupil's nickname.

"Have there been any slave revolts since the triumph of Crassus over Spartacus?" Caligula asked. The question, of course, was a rhetorical one, a method of argumentation that Seneca had taught us.

"I was born on a battlefield," Caligula continued. "I have seen wars. Men die. Their heads are cut off and their guts are ripped out. Only the strong survive. There is nothing pretty about it and nothing philosophical to debate."

That last comment was a dig at Seneca, and I wondered what he would do about it. As usual, our teacher didn't flinch.

"The only criticism I have of Crassus," Caligula continued, "is that he wasted a lot of good wood on a bunch of slaves."

He stood there for a moment, proud of his wit. He smirked and sat down.

Seneca scanned the young faces before him. "Does anybody disagree?" he asked.

I knew I should stay seated. Nothing would be gained from picking a fight with Caligula. Lucian would undoubtedly come to Caligula's defense—if not now, then later, when Seneca wasn't looking. Others would join them because they were intimidated by them. The only student who might agree with me would be little Marcus, and having him on my side was sometimes more trouble than it was worth.

But I couldn't be silent, could I? If I held my tongue now, what would I do when the stakes really mattered?

I stood, certain that Caligula was rolling his eyes. "I disagree," I said as forcefully as possible.

"For some reason, Theophilus," Seneca said, "I am not the least bit surprised."


I faced Seneca, trying to block the other boys out of my peripheral vision. I knew I should be careful because Caligula was petulant and didn't like to be made the fool. But when I had an audience, I couldn't resist showing off a little.

I stood to my full height and spoke using my orator's voice, as Seneca had taught me.

"'Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies and who believe this to be great and manly,'" I said. "'Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive.'"

A few of my classmates groaned at my eloquence. No matter; Seneca had taught me not to be distracted by a hostile audience.

"Those are the words of Cicero, and those are also words of truth and reason," I said proudly. "Roman virtues should include not only justice and courage but forgiveness and mercy."

"Spoken like someone who has never seen a battle, never seen a friend decapitated by a barbarian," Seneca countered. He paced a little, gauging the expressions of the students. "Cicero, not coincidentally, had never seen the battlefield either. So doesn't young Gaius have a point? Rome did not conquer the world with etiquette and Senate resolutions. We extended our civilization, including our cherished adherence to Roman law, by brutal force."

Seneca locked his eyes on me. "How can one claim to honor the law yet not support the forms of punishment that ensure others will follow it?" He pointed behind me to the Appian Way. "Roads like that do not appear from thin air. They are built. Built by slaves, as was your father's estate, Theophilus. There can be no advance without civilization, no civilization without order, and no order without punishment."


Excerpted from THE ADVOCATE by RANDY SINGER. Copyright © 2014 Randy Singer. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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